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Travelling as a Vegetarian to Turkey: The Complete Survival Guide

Being a vegetarian in Turkey isn’t something that one has to ponder about much. Turkey is often associated with cuisines made up commonly out of meat. However, being a vegetarian and traveling in this region will not be a problem since the variety of non-meat dishes available in Turkey are plentiful.

From the never ending cravings for Turkish delights to the munching of smoked chestnuts at the riverside, from the fragrance of the Turkish coffee that will bewitch you from almost a kilometer away to the spiced street food at the stalls at every corner of the roads, being a vegetarian in Turkey will certainly instill a sense of jubilation for all travelers.

When I was in Turkey, I spent a lot of time observing and connecting with the delectable culinary culture around. Through my current blog, I will endeavor to enlist all the ways by means of which being a vegetarian in Turkey becomes a fun experience for you.

Being a Vegetarian in Turkey

As a traveler, you might be skeptical about travelling to another country if you are a vegetarian. Now this is natural because you possibly don’t know what is in store for you in a foreign land. It may turn out be a nightmare if one does not find vegetarian food.  But trust me, when it comes to Turkey the culinary scene isn’t that bad for vegetarians.

Be it breakfast, lunch, dinner or tea time you will be quite amused to find out about the various types of bread they eat in a single day. Turks love eating bread and yogurt at all times.

Talking about breakfast, you will have numerous options to choose. This is due to the fact that Turkish people usually have a lavish breakfast ranging from the Menemen (The Turkish Omelet), olives, different types of cheese, yogurt, jams and marmalades, Kahve (Turkish coffee), salad or fruits and various types of bread to go along with it.

being a vegetarian in Turkey

Turkey makes for a wonderful culinary destination for vegetarians. This is a capture from an Istanbul dessert shop

Recommended Vegetarian Food Items for Different Times of the Day with Cost

Breakfast 13 TL (Gozleme + Turkish chai)
Lunch 38 TL (Borek + Kisir + Etsiz Cig Kofte + Asure + Ayran)
Dinner 45 TL (Pilav + Sarma + Mercimekli Kofte + Yogurtulu Corba + Baklava)

 ‘Aciktim’ (Hungry in Turkish)

Before I proceed further, it is essential to know certain basic words and phrases in Turkish that will assist you at all times throughout your journey of being a vegetarian in Turkey. Here are some important words and phrases for you in Turkish along with their respective meanings in English.

Must Know Turkish Words at a Restaurant

Turkish Word Meaning in English
Merhaba Hi
Teşekkürederim Thank you
Yok No
Evet Yes
Tamam Okay
İngilizcebiliyormusunuz? Do you speak English?
Bu ne? What is this?
Ben birvejeteryanım I am a vegetarian.
HesapLütfen? Bill please?
Tavuk , et vebalikyemem. I do not eat chicken, meat and fish.
Bu ne kadar? How much?
Su Water
Çok More
Az Less
Soğuk Cold
Sıcak Hot
Et siz Without meat
Et Meat
Balik Fish
Tavuk Chicken
Yumurta Eggs
Peynir Cheese
Kahve Coffee
Cay Tea
Pahalı Expensive




To learn more Turkish words and phrases, about the culture and Turkish traditions and to get an overall insight about life in Turkey and what to expect on your first visit, you can check out my earlier blog that outlines all the important details that you ought to know before backpacking to Turkey.

Let me now give you an insight about the numerous varieties of cuisines Turkish people adore gorging on to at all times during the day, followed by a comprehensive price list in Turkish lira of the same.

Breads in Turkey and Their Average Cost

Bread is a part of every meal in Turkey. By every meal I mean literally every meal. Bread, yogurt and Turkish Chai are an indispensable part in the routines of all Turkish folks. Therefore,  being a vegetarian in Turkey will turn out to be a lot more easier if you are aware of the different kinds of bread available.  The Turks love their bread.

Bazlama (3 Turkish Lira) Single layered flat circular bread made up of water, salt, yeast, Greek yogurt and wheat flour. Sprinkled with finely chopped parsley.

It is similar to the Indian bread Naan and tastes the best when eaten fresh and hot.

Gozleme (12.50 Turkish Lira) One of my favourite of all the breads I tried is the Turkish Gozleme or as I would call it “The Turkish Parantha”. Unlike the Bazlama it is stuffed with spinach, feta cheese, mushrooms or potatoes.

If you are looking for something inexpensive yet filling, Gozleme is what you must try.

Pogaca (1.50 Turkish Lira) Right from the oven, these freshly baked fluffy rolls sprinkled with sesame seeds and stuffed lovingly with cheese, olives or potatoes are a must have for a delightful breakfast.

Mostly being round in shape, designs can however be creative ranging from rose shaped to knot shaped and what not.

Pide (8.00 Turkish Lira) Pide is another filling Turkish flatbread baked in a stone oven with various toppings like tomatoes, onions, cheese, peppers, potatoes and mushrooms.

Usually cut into slices it’s sort of a Turkish thin crust pizza.

Simit (1.50 Turkish Lira) Simit is the most widely available inexpensive bread all over Turkey. These are slightly salted circular ring shapes breads encrusted with a generous amount of sesame seeds available at every corner of the street just for one Turkish lira.

It must be consumed immediately or else becomes very chewy and moistened if left in open for long.

Lavash (2.00 Turkish Lira) Lavash is extremely thin bread made with salt, water and flour and sometimes it is toasted with sesame seeds that are sprinkled before baking it.

It is one of the most central breads that are used in almost all Turkish dishes. Turks generally wrap their kebabs into the Lavash bread and have them with salads and yogurt.

Corek (2.50 Turkish Lira) Corek is croissant shaped bread that’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Turks generally warm it up for their perfect Turkish breakfast. A Corek tastes great with tahini.

 

being a vegetarian in turkey

Generously sesame coated Pide that I gorged onto during the Bosphorous river tour in Istanbul

Being situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkey has a variety of cuisines to offer to each and every individual. Being a vegetarian in Turkey along with having fondness for spicy food will surely go way a long way. Reason being that Turkey has immensely appetizing and flavorsome variety of eateries that no connoisseur of fine food would want to miss.

Here’s a list of few great dishes that any individual would love stuffing themselves with being or not being a vegetarian in Turkey.

Must Try Turkish Dishes

Pilav (8 to 10 Turkish Lira) Pilav refers to the plain rice that is also known as “sade pilav” in Turkey. It is served as a side dish to most of the meals in Turkey.
Domatesli Pilav (8 to 10 Turkish Lira) For those who find the plain rice bland can try the “Domatesli Pilav” or the tomato rice.

Rice tossed in butter with tangy tomato gravy. It tastes best when eaten with yogurt.

Dolma / Sarma (9 to 11 Turkish Lira) These are rolls made up of pickled vine leaves which resemble the “paan” leaves that are eaten in India owing to their green color.

These rolls are stuffed either with vegetables or rice or sometimes even a mix of both. The stuffing includes eggplants, onions, bell peppers and zucchini along with plain rice.

They are generally served hot with a dollop of plain yogurt however it can be eaten cold as well.

Mercimekli Kofte (8 to 12 Turkish Lira) These koftes unlike the others are not made up of meat but red lentil and mixed together with spring onions and tomato puree.

It is served with lettuce and Lavash bread. Some restaurants might provide salads too along with the Mercimekli Kofte.

Borek (8 to 11 Turkish Lira) These are also known as “Sigara Borek” owing to their cigarette shaped cylindrical form. I refer to these as the Turkish spring rolls.

There is a wide variety of Borek available in Turkey ranging from different shapes and stuffing.  It is often filled with feta cheese and parsley minced together with salt and pepper. It goes perfectly well with a chilled glass of Turkish Aryan (buttermilk).

Etsiz Cig Kofte (10.00 Turkish Lira) Etsiz Cig Kofte refers to meat free koftes. These are very similar to the Mercimekli Kofte in preparation as well as serving.

It is usually served as an appetizer or mezze and can be eaten cold as well as hot.

Sebzili Krep (12 to 15 Turkish Lira) As the name suggests, Sebzili Krep is literally vegetable crepes. Though not widely available you might spot this at a few restraunt. These are mostly accompanied with various dips and fries.
Kisir (10 Turkish Lira) Kisir is a sort of vegetable salad that is served cold as a side dish to most of the Turkish dishes or in the mezze platter.

Ingredients include parsley, tomato puree, pomegranate, lemon juice, finely ground bulgur, onion, garlic cucumber and a lot of spices.

 

being a vegetarian in turkey

The lovely Sigara Borek. They get their name owing to their cigarette shaped cylindrical form

Being or not being a vegetarian in Turkey doesn’t affect the fact that every traveler ought to try the mouthwatering street food while strolling down the lanes in Turkey. These are quite pocket friendly and stomach filling indulgences to munch while on the go. One can’t really avoid the tempting smell of the street food while you are wandering in the streets of Turkey.

Street Food in Turkey

Kestane (20-30 Turkish Lira for one kg) Kestane refers to chestnuts which are really popular amongst the people wandering in the streets of Istanbul.

You can smell these roasted chestnuts from miles away. The smell of the Kestane being roasted on the cart near you will be irresistible and it tastes slightly sweet and nutty.

These are arranged aesthetically on the vendor’s cart and are a must try.

Simit (1.50 Turkish Lira ) These ring shaped generously sesame coated breads can be found at every corner of the street in Turkey.

So do not hesitate to grab one while wandering in the city of Istanbul as it just costs you one Turkish lira!

Kozde Misir (4.00 Turkish Lira ) Misir refers to corn in Turkish. Kozde Misir is literally a roasted corn that we eat in India during the rainy season called Bhutta.

The corn is put on charcoal till it roasts and turns black and is then sprinkled with salt and lemon.

Cubukta Patates (7.00 Turkish Lira ) Cubukta Patates is a fast food concept where in a potato is peeled onto a bamboo stick in a twisted manner and deep fried until it turns golden brown at the stall.

It is then sprinkled with salt, pepper and chili powder if one wants it to be spicy. It’s a treat, especially for the kids.

Misir (5.00 Turkish Lira ) Misir is the traditional sweet corn that we get in cups. It is available in small, medium and large size cups. One can choose from a variety of ingredients that one wants to be added to their classic cup of sweet corn.

These include salt, pepper, chili sauce, garlic powder, cheese, mayonnaise, oregano and butter.

Kumpir (20.00 Turkish Lira ) Kumpir refers to a baked potato served with cheese, butter, sour cream and various fillings that one can choose from. The potato is well baked and has a crispy skin on the outside and a soft fluffy interior on the inside.

The potato is split from between and then various stuffing like yogurt, black and green olives, carrot, beetroot, onions, corn and pickles are added and mixed along with salt, pepper and butter right in front of you at the stall.

Halka Tatlisi (2.50 Turkish Lira ) This is a popular dessert that you find on the streets of Turkey which is quite similar to Churros. It’s a treat for those who have a sweet tooth and can grab these Turkish Churros on the go.

 

being a vegetarian in turkey

Simit bread being sold at the streets near bosphorous river in Istanbul

Turkey has all sorts of light and refreshing drinks to offer unlike heavy ones that make you feel sleepy after consuming them.

Here’s a list of all non-alcoholic beverages that will make you feel energetic after an exhausting day while roaming around and shopping at various shops at Turkey.

Drinks in Turkey

Turkish Chai (3 to 5 Turkish Lira) Turkish chai is the elixir of life in Turkey. Turks drink more tea than they drink water in a day. Unlike the Indian chai it doesn’t contain milk. Although most tourists don’t really enjoy the traditional Turkish chai but apple tea is something tourists love sipping from the tulip shaped glasses after a hectic day.

Most of the restaurants and cafes in Turkey serve Chai free of cost as a complimentary drink, unless you do not order something else to eat; it is chargeable.

Turkish Kahve (7 to 9 Turkish Lira) Turkish Kahve (coffee) is sheer love for those who are fond of drinking black coffee. The more bubbled the coffee is the better it tastes. One can also indulge in some future forecasting sessions with a local by flipping the cup upside down after finishing the coffee.

A Turkish Kahve is generally accompanied by a glass of water and small cubes of Turkish Lokum to cut the bitter after taste of the Turkish coffee.

Ayran (2 to 5 Turkish Lira) Aryan is the Turkish buttermilk or what we call chass in India. It is a salted yogurt based beverage that is served chilled.

Turkish people love drinking it during summers. It is often served as an accompaniment with Pilav / rice. It is widely available at all grocery stores as well as cafes and restaurants in Turkey.

In Arabian countries it is called as the “Laban”. My host family made me drink the Turkish Ayran each and every day so much so that it became a part of my daily routine even when I returned home, that is how much they love drinking Ayran.

Sherbet (3 to 5 Turkish Lira) Turkey has a similar variety of sherbets to serve like in India. Rosehip sherbet is served during Ramadan and is one the best flavor amongst the endless varieties they have.
Salgam Suyu (3 to 5 Turkish Lira) Salgam means the same as what it stands for turnip in Hindi shalgam. Basically a turnip juice served chilled in large glasses along with pickled carrots.

If you like your drink to be spicy, you can add a spoonful of hot red pepper for some extra heat and better taste.

Limonata (5 to 10 Turkish Lira) Refreshing classic Turkish lemonade.
Sahlep  (5 to 10 Turkish Lira) It’s a milk based humble drink sold by the vendors all across the streets of Istanbul and the rest of the country.

It’s thickened with starch and sweetened with sugar, sprinkled generously with cinnamon powder. You can also add flavors of rose or orange to it.

It’s a divine indulgence to set your mood right.

Yogurtulu Corba (8 to 10 Turkish Lira) Turks are totally obsessed with yogurt. So much so that they even cook it!

Being a yogurt lover myself, Yogurtulu Corba or the yogurt soup sounded something very strange to me until I actually tried it.

This Turkish soup includes yogurt, salt, mint and rice. It is a perfect recipe to ease your stomach immediately or to fight severe cold.

 

My host – Mr. Yigit Ezen drinking Ayran ( (Turkish buttermilk)

Turkey is a heaven on earth for those who have a sweet tooth. The amount of nectarous desserts they have is truly impeccable. The desserts are made in such a way that it feels like it is absolutely fit for a king or any royalty. Such is the culture of Turkey – rich and royal.

The Turkish Lokum is something that will never make you feel satiated. No matter how much you have it, you will end up getting kilograms of different varieties of Turkish Lokum packed for yourself to take back home.

It surely is one of the best things to gift someone while not forgetting the rich essence of Turkey.

Turkish Desserts

Baklava (12 to 15 Turkish Lira per portion) It’s a layered pastry filled with finely chopped nuts and has a flaky texture. It’s a rich Turkish dessert that melts in your mouth just as you bite into it. It is available is numerous sizes, shapes and flavors.
Sutlac (12 to 15 Turkish Lira) Sutlac is a Turkish rice pudding similar to what we call in India as “Phirni or Kheer”. This dessert is made from rice soaked and boiled in milk and sugar. It contains raisins and is garnished with pistachios and a dash of cinnamon. It can be eaten both hot and cold as per your liking.
Helva (15 to 20 Turkish Lira) Exactly similar to the “Halva” one finds in India, the Turks call it “Helva”. The Helva is semolina flour based or at times it is made by grinding together various sesame seeds and mixing it along with sugar. The Turkish Helva generally isn’t as sticky as the Indian halva and is cut into cuboidal slabs.
Sekerpare (12 to 15 Turkish Lira per portion) Sekerpare are sweet Turkish cookies made up of semolina flour and sugar and glazed with lemon syrup. It generally contains a walnut or hazelnut and sometimes even an almond pressed onto its top.
Lokum (Starts from 15 Turkish Lira per Kg. Depends upon which variety you are buying) This is so far the best dessert I have ever eaten in my entire life, not just in Turkey. Made up of citric acid, starch and sugar, it comes in various flavors and colors. Varieties of lokum include – pomegranate lokum, hazelnut lokum, almond lokum, pistachio lokum, fruity lokum, chocolate lokum, rose petal lokum, creamy lokum and many more. It comes either in rolls or dice shaped mini cubes. These truly are a heavenly indulgence for all tourists and I highly recommend trying these.
Dondurma (5 Turkish Lira) Dondurma is the Turkish ice cream. Being thick and chewy it does not melt easily owing to the fact the vendors play so many tricks while serving you the ice cream. It’s not just the taste of the ice cream that fascinates one into having it but also the way how vendors playfully serve their customers owing to the ice cream’s stretchy and sticky characteristics. Whether it is your first time in Turkey or you’re a returning visitor, the Turkish ice cream is something that should be on top of your must have items while in Turkey.  It comes in different flavors like pistachio, vanilla, chocolate, mango, hazelnut and many more. You can either choose any one flavor or choose to have a combination of two or three by just paying a few more Turkish liras.
Asure (10 to 15 Turkish Lira) This dessert is a treat for all the pudding lovers. It is also known as the “Noah’s Pudding”. It’s more of a porridge pudding consisting of various dry fruits, nuts and grains. The most commonly eaten flavors are orange and lemon topped with pomegranate and rose petals. This pudding is especially made during the first ten days of the first month of the Islamic calendar called “Muharrem” for fasting purposes.
Kunefe (15 Turkish Lira) This cheese pastry is extremely hard to avoid. It consists of Turkish cheese fried and coated generously with sugar syrup. It has a crunchy outer layer in contrast to its melty interior. It is garnished with finely chopped pistachios or even ice cream at times.
Lokma (10 to 15 Turkish Lira per Kg) The Turkish Lokum and Lokma sound very similar but are quite different except the fact that they both taste amazing. The Turkish Lokma is more like an Indian “Gulab Jamun”, fried dough balls soaked in sugar syrup and sometimes even grated with lemon peel to give a slightly tangy after taste to your tongue.
Kaymakli Ekmek Kadayifi (10 to 15 Turkish Lira per portion) This is a Turkish bread and cream basically topped with chopped pistachios. It is extremely sweet owing to the various sugar syrups that it is saturated with.
Revani (12 to 15 Turkish Lira per portion) Revani is a classic Turkish dessert made up of the semolina flour, yogurt and a lot of sugar syrup. It is a Turkish sponge cake that comes often flavored with orange or lemon zest and sometimes even rose water. You shall find this dessert mostly accompanied with the Turkish chai.
Ayva Tatlisi (10 to 15 Turkish Lira per portion) Quince is a fruit that belongs to the apple and pear family and this is what Ayva Tatlisi is made up of –“the quince fruit”. The fruit is boiled along with cloves, raisins and sugar syrup. It is enjoyed during winters in Turkey. It has a gorgeous color and it simply melts into your mouth.
Kabak Tatlisi (9 to 15 Turkish Lira per portion) Kabak means a pumpkin in Turkish. It is a seasonal candied pumpkin dessert and is mostly available during winters only. Topped with crushed walnuts and served with thick clotted cream, this dessert is a divine indulgence for pumpkin fans.

 

being a vegetarian in turkey

Various varieties of Lokum being sold at a shop

The best part about being a vegetarian in Turkey is that the first thing that one can easily do after landing at the airport is to grab some local chips, cookies and snacks to munch while one actually figures out what vegetarian dishes they can eat for main course.

Being in Turkey initially, while I was figuring out what to eat, I happened to stumble upon these tasty quick bites at the grocery stores in Turkey and was totally in love with them. Throughout my entire trip I had at least one of the snacks mentioned below in my backpack at all times to gorge on to at all possible odd times when my stomach grumbled for food.

I highly recommend trying the green packet of “Doritos Bahrateli flavored taco nacho chips”and Gong Popcorn Biscuits”. Also if you are an ice tea fan like me do try the new variant of Lipton Watermelon Ice Tea” that is widely available in all supermarkets in Turkey.


Turkish Snacks

Gong Popcorn Biscuits (1.50 Turkish Lira) The Gong Popcorn Biscuits were something I have had each and every day during my stay at Turkey. Imagining popcorn in the form of biscuits itself is quite amusing; however it is just a perfect snack to have while sipping tea or coffee. I had it at all times in my backpack to munch while on the go. It is inexpensive and comes in two variants – one is the classic salted one and the other one is the spicy cheese flavor. This popcorn biscuit is surely something you will want to take back to your home country.
Cokomel (1.80 Turkish Lira) If you are a marshmallow and chocolate lover like me, this is surely the best thing on earth to have to satiate your cravings for both at one go. These are small chocolate coated marshmallow balls that you can pop in your mouth.
Eti Puff (0.30 Turkish Lira) Another treat for chocolate and marshmallow lovers is the Eti Puff. It comes in a small packet with a single huge marshmallow ball coated over on a classic biscuit and decorated with cocoa granules and sprinkles. You really cannot resist the Eti puff.
Cin Cookies (1.20 Turkish Lira) Cin cookies are truly bliss. These are mini round shaped chocolate flavored cookies with orange jelly or strawberry jelly on top sprinkled with chocolate sprinkles. It’s a cute treat for kids.
Doritos Bahrateli (3.0 Turkish Lira) If you love spicy over anything else in the world, Dorito’s Bahrateli is just the perfect thing to grab in Turkey for snacks. These are spicy nacho tortilla chips. This variant of Doritos comes in a green colored packing and is only available specifically in Turkey. It has a perfect blend of all the flavors and is super crispy and crunchy.
Ulker Cubuk Kracker (1.00 Turkish Lira) These are salted sticks eaten widely all over Turkey with tea and coffee. They are like the soya sticks one gets in India. These come coated or not coated with sesame seeds.
Ulker Biskrem (1.50 Turkish Lira) As the name Biskrem suggests it is a Turkish version of an Indian “Choco Fils” biscuit. These are cute baked cookies with melted chocolate filling inside and taste best when warmed and eaten.

I’ve come across a lot of people who are otherwise non-meat eaters but consume eggs when necessary. Traveling becomes slightly easier if one is fond of eating eggs. If you’re an eggetarian,  do taste the Turkish Menemen.

being a vegetarian in turkey

Turkish Menemen served with bread at the Ahavi Cafe in Eskisehir

 

A Menemen is a traditional “Turkish omelet” which includes finely chopped tomatoes, onions, salt, green and red peppers, green chili and eggs cooked in tons of olive oil. Garnished generously with parsley and dried oregano, this Turkish omelet is served along with black and green olives, bread and feta cheese.

It costs around 20-25 Turkish lira and is totally worth the price you pay.

It’s gently cooked and are removed from the pan and allowed to cook further on the table; it’s sort of a slightly juicier version of Turkish style scrambled eggs. Menemen makes for a brilliant filling breakfast.This one dish is what you will consistently crave for once you return to your home town.

being a vegetarian in Turkey

A delicious good bye Red Velvet cake provided as a surprise by at a cafe in Eskisehir by my host family. Picture by Nimisha Modi

Recommended Cafes for Vegetarians in Turkey

Some cafes in Eskisehir to try out being a vegetarian in Turkey

Ahavi café bistro
Travelers café
Aciktim café
Pedal café
Arena café
Krepya
Sumer park café bistro
Riverside café

Surviving being a vegetarian in Turkey is quite an easy job. All you need to do is to have a big stomach to ensure that you don’t miss out trying any of the above mentioned Turkish dishes. You would end up loving the Turkish food so much that I am sure no food shall ever make you feel so satisfactory in life than this and you would be willing to travel to the country for experiencing its rich food and culture once again.

Without a doubt being a vegetarian in Turkey is utterly an ambrosial experience that one shouldn’t miss out on.

AFIYET OLSUN!

(Bon appetite in Turkish)

 About the Author

Nimisha Modi

Nimisha Modi

Nimisha Modi is a 19 year old girl who dreams big. Hailing from the beautiful pink city of Jaipur in west India, she is currently pursuing B.Com Hons from NMIMS, Mumbai. Nimisha is a traveler at heart and firmly believes that travel is an investment in itself. Keeping this thought in mind, she has been saving since childhood to fulfill her wanderlust bucket list and will surely keep doing the same for the rest of her life. Each place she has travelled to has changed her as a person and has become a part of Nimisha somehow. She loves the feeling of being anonymous in a city and enjoys traveling solo. Nimisha’s ultimate goal is to run out of pages in her passport and travel far enough to discover her ‘self’ even more.

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